Thousands leave comments about Confederate monuments at NC capitol

A statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, long believed to be the first Confederate casualty of the Civil War on the Old Capitol grounds in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
A statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, long believed to be the first Confederate casualty of the Civil War on the Old Capitol grounds in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – In the first 48 hours of public comment on three Confederate statues outside the North Carolina capitol, more than 2,000 people offered their opinions through a state website.

Gov. Roy Cooper proposed relocating the memorials from the capitol grounds in Downtown Raleigh to the Bentonville Battlefield Historic Site near Four Oaks. The Johnston County grounds were the site of the state’s biggest battle during the Civil War.

State lawmakers argued over the legality of moving the monuments.

According to a law made in 2015, Confederate memorials can only be moved in cases involving public safety concerns. Cooper sought the insight of the North Carolina Historical Commission, which decided in the fall to postpone a decision until April. The plan was to accept public input, and at a meeting on January 22, the committee opted to launch a website on January 29 for online submissions.

A statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, long believed to be the first Confederate casualty of the Civil War on the Old Capitol grounds in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)
A statue of Henry Lawson Wyatt, long believed to be the first Confederate casualty of the Civil War on the Old Capitol grounds in Raleigh. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

“It’s always good to get public comments to know what a broad spectrum of the public is saying about it,” said Kenneth Barbour, who intends to submit his thoughts online.

“I’m 66, and (these statues have) been here my whole lifetime. I remember this as a child. And to me, it’s not as much about a racial issue as it is about something that’s been here forever and seems like part of the capitol.”

Ron Matthews said the statues are a century old and he sees no need for a change after all this time. He said he’s grown accustomed to seeing them during his trips downtown, and they are low on his list of troubling things.

“I’m a Black American myself, and I understand some of the struggles that we–and all people–go through in daily life. But there are more ways we can work together as people to help each other than just worrying about a statue. I mean, it really doesn’t affect me.,” Matthews said.

He said the way the Historical Commission is handling the situation is a good approach. Matthews criticized protesters who tore down a Confederate monument in Durham in August. He said he’d much rather people express their mind on a government website

“Going on government property, tearing down something, that’s just not the way to do it. Submit your opinions, and then we can work together on things like that,” Matthews said.

“When you rip things down and jump up and down on TV, that’s not the way to do things.”

Members of the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans said the state does not have legal right to move the statues.

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Jake Sullivan provided a statement on behalf of the NCSCV which said that the qualification of a monument for putting public safety at risk means the physical condition of the monument creates a danger to people nearby.

The counter-argument is that there is a concern to public safety due to other dangers, such as the Durham protests which followed the death of a woman in Charlottesville, Virginia during protests between white nationalists and their opponents.

The local division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans said public safety does not come into play when there is a threat of a mob, and that the government should not give in to a mob.

“We are asking our members and the members of the general public to register their disgust with Governor Cooper and the Historical Commission via the public comment portal,” Sullivan said.

The Historical Commission has not set a deadline for people to complete their online submissions. There will be at least one public forum where people can voice their opinions in person, but the committee has not set a date.

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